Maryland to ask feds for cash to build controversial highway

| 3/14/2003

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich is seeking federal help for the controversial Intercounty Connector, The Washington Post reported March 14.

The highway would link Interstates 270 and 95, running from Rockville east to Laurel in Montgomery County, MD, costing an estimated $1.3 billion. Area officials have been discussing the highway for 40 years. The proposed route, twice rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency, would carry traffic through natural land saved from development rather than through developed areas.

Land Line reported Nov. 22 that changes in Maryland’s government after the last election could revive plans for the 18-mile, east-west connector. The previous administration in the state, led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, had rejected the highway, with the former governor saying he wanted to end discussion of the connector "once and for all."

The movement to revive the long-languishing plan gained momentum in late January, when officials in Ehrlich’s administration told The Baltimore Sun they were determined to see the highway built.

The federal government next week will begin consideration of projects to receive a portion of federal highway money. The Post said the competition includes more than 300 projects, and the connector route is among those Maryland will submit.

The chief objections to the highway come from environmental groups and their supporters, who claim it will cause pollution of streams and possibly harm the local trout population.

In a December letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta quoted by The Post, Montgomery Council member Philip Andrews of Rockville said the road would cause too much environmental harm for it to be the subject of an expedited study. On the same day that Andrews’ letter was sent, 13 environmental groups also sent a letter to Mineta, saying President Bush's executive order calling for streamlined environmental reviews was not intended for such a controversial proposal.

However, despite those objections, the new administration in Maryland is giving clear signals it intends to move forward. Officials under Ehrlich say the highway would reduce congestion on the Capital Beltway, cutting pollution from cars and other vehicles, and allow commuters to spend more time with their families instead of spending it on the road.

"We will find a way to build the ICC," Robert L. Flanagan, Gov. Ehrlich's nominee for transportation secretary, told the Baltimore newspaper.